By Guthrie Dean
Every Sunday morning the Madison church of Christ has a program over one of our local television stations. And every Sunday morning Brother Ira North, their preacher, has them to flash his name on the screen as Doctor Ira North. Everyone else on the program is referred to as Brother, Sister, or simply referred to by name. Only Ira is Doctor.
I always think of Jesus’ statement in Matt. 23:6-12 when describing the Pharisees of His time who “Love the uppermost rooms at the feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi. But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren . . . .” In the case of the Madison church, however: “One is your Rabbi, even Ira; and all ye are brethren.” I challenge anyone to deny that the verses under consideration apply to Brother North’s vanity. He is a living model of a modern-day Pharisee.
The name Rabbi means: “Rabbi, my master, teacher, doctor, Matt. 23:7,8; 26:25,49, et al” (The Analytical Greek Lexicon). I am not opposed to education. It could be that I have gone to school about as many years as Brother North has, but that is not the point. To use the recognition of such degrees of learning as a preacher’s title in the church is just as inexcusable as the Baptists and Methodists who call their preachers “Reverend,” and “Doctor.” Brother North cannot use Matt. 23:9 to condemn the Catholics for making a religious title out of “father,” when Brother North himself makes a religious title out of “Rabbi,” of verses 7-8, and applies the same to himself, even in the church!
The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary tells us that “It is the spirit rather than the letter of this that must be pressed; though the violation of the letter, springing from spiritual pride, has done incalculable evil in the Church of Christ. The reiteration of the word ‘Rabbi’ shows how it tickled the ear and fed the spiritual pride of those ecclesiastics.”
Matthew Henry writes: “It was but a little before Christ’s time, that the Jewish teachers, the masters of Israel, had assumed the titles of Rabbi, Rab, and Rabban, which signifies great, or much; and was construed as Doctor, or My lord . . . Christ’s ministers must not affect the name of Rabbi, or Master, by way of distinction from other people; it is not agreeable to the simplicity of the gospel . . . .”
Adam Clarke states: “These rabbins were looked up to as infallible oracles in religious matters, and usurped not only the place of the law, but of God himself.” Look out, Brother North.
Of “Rabbi,” The Expositor’s Greek Testament says: “In Christ’s time a new title of honour for the Jewish doctors …. The threefold counsel shows the intensely anti-prelatic spirit of Jesus. In spite of this earnest warning the love of pre-eminence and leadership has prevailed in the Church to the detriment of independence, the sense of responsibility, and loyalty to God.”
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: “RABBI: A term used by the Jews of their religious teachers as a title of respect, from rabh, `great,’ so `my great one’ . . . Jesus forbade its use among His followers.”
Matt. 23:6-12 condemns the spirit that will prompt one to want to be exalted above his brethren in the church. And those same verses condemn anyone who will use the terms father, master, Rabbi or doctor as religious titles to distinguish them from the brethren.
Brother North, I know I am properly applying these verses, for right in the middle of the argument Jesus says: “for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.” Does that not make all brethren equal? Then where does your Doctor title come in? It comes in only as the Pharisees used it and as Jesus condemned it. This is too plain to miss.
We need to be more like the man in Job 32:21-22: “Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man. For I know not to give flattering titles; in so doing my maker would soon take me away.” James 2 is also on the same subject: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons . . . . But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors” (James 2:1,9). So if I don’t call you Doctor, Brother North, that does not mean that I do not love you. I do. But I do not exalt you above any other brother in the church. So you will just have to leave your handle at the door when you come into the assembly.
Truth Magazine, XX:4, p. 12
January 22, 1976